Land condemnation cases in a controversial bridge and road project in south Baldwin County could stretch out for years, according to an attorney with six clients who have had land taken by the state.
“Of my six cases, two have been appealed to circuit court, where jury trials have been requested by both sides,” attorney Warren Herlong said. “But they have just been appealed. I would not expect the jury trials to occur for a year or so.”
But that part of the legal wrangling will not hold up the project, Herlong said. When a condemnation case is appealed in the Baldwin County Probate Court it goes before a three-person land panel to examine the offer by the state and issue its ruling on how much the state should pay the landowners.
“The state can proceed with the construction of the project if they pay into court the amount the probate court land commissioners award,” Herlong said.
But whether or not the state can take the land is not up for debate. Herlong said that is going to happen.
“I’m representing a number of owners, and while I have filed a pleading that objects to the taking there really is no legal basis to object to the taking,” Herlong said. “I’m not going to pursue that. What my clients have asked me to do is secure adequate, just compensation for their land being taken.”
Herlong represents the Williams Joseph Evans Revocable Trust, Orlanda B. Clark-Perrault and Robert T. Perrault, the George Wallace family, Doyce and Shirley Ellenberg, Anthony and Patricia Diliberto, and Laura Waters Almaroad.
According to the Alabama Department of Transportation these are among 17 tracts of varying sizes that have been condemned by the state for the $87 million project. Three of those have come to terms and one has signed an agreement without any court action. Nine are on appeal before a probate court land commission and four have been appealed to Baldwin Circuit Court.
Herlong says two of his cases have settled — the Perraults, who were originally offered $369,600 for 3.98 acres, according to court documents. It was broken down into $91,540 for the land at $23,000 an acre, $235,492 for structures, $26,808 for site improvements and $15,750 for damages and enhancements. The owners ended up receiving $475,000.
“The Wallace property is currently pending in court and we’ve reached an agreement and plan to close by deed but not through the court system as we are doing with Perrault,” Herlong said. “At this time I would have to keep [the state’s offer] confidential.”
Two other cases are headed to circuit court — Ellenberg and the Evans family trust — and likely are a year out from being heard.
According to court documents, the state offered the Evans Trust $737,150 — $231,750 for property and $505,400 for damages to remaining property involving 3.09 acres.
“Almaroad and Diliberto, there has been a probate court land commissioners hearing but we have not gotten the decision yet,” Herlong said. “Either side can then appeal that decision to the Circuit Court of Baldwin County. If either side requests a jury trial, then it is a jury trial as to the issue of just compensation. We always appeal and the state always does.”